Blog post

Citizen-Driven Government Must Be Employee-Centric, Too

By Andrea Di Maio | June 11, 2009 | 2 Comments

e-government

I rarely publicize a piece of research that I’ve written for our clients, as I know that some if not most of this blog’s readers have no access to that.

However I’d like to make an exception for a research note that was published yesterday on our web site: Citizen-Driven Government Must Be Employee-Centric, Too (subscription required).

I’ve been touching upon how important employees are to a successful government transformation and how “government 2.0” needs an “officer 2.0” to actually work.

In the above-mentioned piece I cover the main characteristics of what I call employee-centric government, which can be summarized as follows:

  • It challenges procedures and restates policy boundaries
  • It provides a seamless platform for collaboration
  • It measures outcomes and not outputs
  • It stimulates creativity and rewards innovation
  • It reinforces accountability

Gartner clients can look in detail at what this means and how we suggest to distill these characteristics in their current and future transformation programs.

What I believe is quite innovative in our positions on this topic is that we put “citizen-driven” and “employee-centric” together. I’m sure that many will react saying that government has always been employee-centric and that one of the main reason for low quality and low productivity is indeed the inflexibility if not laziness of many employees. We have countries like Italy where government employees are under intense scrutiny and are subject to public criticism by ministers themselves.

So all those who have been talking (yes, mostly talking and less doing) about the mythical “citizen-centric” government were either ignoring, or paying lip service or implicitly criticizing the role of civil servants.

Reality is that the enemy of service quality and efficiency is not the individual but the organization he or she operates in, and the culture that such organization exudes. It is unrealistic to achieve government transformation by just injecting technology, making some organizational adjustments and without changing  its organizational value system too.

My contention is that new technologies can help individuals in government change that culture, innovate, transform service delivery and operations from the inside,. All this by reaching out to constituents through social networks, by establishing informal means to cooperate inside and outside their organizations, by accepting to blur the boundaries between personal and professional identities. Employees have knowledge about policies, procedures, cases, processes that citizens do not have. That’s why empowered employees are essential for citizen to drive the government machinery in the direction they want.

What is quite extraordinary is that this does not require new laws, directives, procedures to be started. As a matter of fact, the code of conduct for civil servants is often more than enough to set the boundaries of what they can and cannot do.

As a last observation, every time I touch upon this topic, I get many reactions from clients and non-clients. My previous posts on officer 2.0 and on teachers on Facebook generated a healthy debate (both here and on Facebook itself). And so it happens when I talk to government clients and IT vendors alike.

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2 Comments

  • Aren’t government employees also citizens?

    Seems that we need to connect on a human basis. Civil servant crowdsourced policies should be sufficient.

  • Claudia says:

    I would like to see more discussion about how transparency and accountability overlap and/or might be distinguished from one another. For example, I have seen in public agencies that accountability is measured in numbers and paperwork, and that people who fail to measure up in certain bureaucratic ways are penalized, in very outdated ways, and this is considered “accountability.” Let’s take child protection. The goal/outcome might be to ensure safety for the child in the home. But the measure might be weather the worker asked certain questions and documented the answers in every interaction with the family. But say the worker has an hour and the child ran away that week, and the time is taken up ensuring that everything is back on track, and no, they didn’t get around to making sure that normal questions x, y, and z were asked and answered. So the worker is dinged. Or, say the worker didn’t close out a certain percentage of cases assigned to him because of work left undone by a predecessor. But the raw numbers look bad and that worker is still “written up,” because of “accountability,” because “transparency” means that the public has access to these numbers. Or say that 12 kids who were the the child protection system die in a year, and because of transparency the names of those social workers are released to the public, even though those workers may have saved god knows how many lives, or had god knows how many excess cases assigned because nowadays workers are called out whenever anyone looks crosseyed at their kids? I’m not a child protection worker, but I happen to know quite a few people in this field.

    How do you get from transparency/accountability to true worker-empowerment, where workers who after all have the training and education get to decide what constitutes a true risk to the child (rather than CYA), where management backs up the worker on a judgment call in the face of citizen ire, where it’s about the kids and the families and not about the paperwork (in excess–there obvious has to be documentation), where it’s not an old-school authoritarian model where people actually get called “insubordinate”?